Technology, Ecology and Humanism

Technology with a Human Face.

- E.F. Schumacher, Swedish Economist

In the last few decades, several areas of science have demonstrated that Nature is incomparably more subtle and intricate than we had realized. The technology that humans are so proud of is crude and primitive compared with Nature, but it can be brutally powerful.

- James Martin, A leading authority on the economic and social impact of technology.

The ancient world was governed by the values of religion and philosophy. The middle ages were driven by the values of politics, conquest and empire building. The reigning angels of our modern age are science, technology and commerce. We are children of the technological age. The ambience of technology permeates every activity of our life including our religion and spirituality. An image in a popular magazine shows a Buddhist monk in an ochre robe operating a personal computer. This image reveals very concretely the all-pervading impact of technology on our life. Even the most ascetic, religious and spiritual institutions use technology either to enhance efficiency or spread their message or to rail at the “evil of technology”.

And modern business is the most efficient and effective user of technology though not always a wise user. The corporate world has not displayed much wisdom in using technology in a humane and eco-friendly manner. However, the imperatives of competition and the need to focus on the customer have awakened business leaders and entrepreneurs to some of the human factors which need to be considered in the right use of technology. In the corporate world there are many products which are technical marvels like for example Polaroid Camera and Apple’s Newton, but bombed in the market or replaced by more customer-focussed products because customer is not willing to pay the price for the technical perfection. So the new age entrepreneur has realized by hard experience that in the emerging corporate landscape, technology cannot be for its own sake but must serve the customer, which means human needs.

Similarly in the domain of economics and development studies, the Swedish economist E.F. Schumacher has awakened the development theorist and practitioner to the human face of technology. Schumacher’s gospel of “Appropriate Technology” counsels that a technology-system for a human group must be specifically tailored to the actual and unique economic, ecological, social, cultural and human needs of people living in the community.

The other important perspective on technology is the ecological view. After the advent of industrial revolution, our attitude to Nature is that of a hardened criminal who deserves the gallows. We have plundered, polluted and raped Nature and called this ignorant, criminal assault on Nature as mastery. Only recently, after the dawn of the new science of ecology and environmentalism, we are beginning to realize that by doing harm to Nature we are destroying ourself, because we are part of Nature and that too a small part of a much greater force.

If we are a part of Nature we cannot “develop” by taking an antagonistic and arrogant attitude to Nature. The exclusive humanism which aims at “conquest” of Nature by the power of technology and harness her energies for human “progress” is an obsolete mindset of Industrial Revolution. We must outgrow this infantile attitude to Nature if we have to survive as a race. We must keep in mind that Nature is an infinitely greater force than any individual or collective human ego. No human organism can “conquer” Nature with the puny force or intelligence of its ego. The right attitude to Nature is not the urge for conquest but to learn from her, obey her laws and imitate her methods; not to become the master of Nature but to be her student, disciple and child. Beyond this ecological and humanistic perspective there is a spiritual-evolutionary perspective which will be discussed briefly in the beginning of this issue.

All these perspective on technology point out to the need of a philosophy of technology which can bring clarity and vision to the role of technology in human development and planetary evolution.

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